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Archive of Childhood Assignment Sheet, V. 3

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AMS 311, Popular Culture and American Childhood (Instructor: Rebecca Onion,

Assignment Sheet: Writing the Archive of Childhood (Version 3, Updated 11.11.11)

All of the authors we’ve discussed so far have written about childhood from the perspective of adults long-separated from the culture they enjoyed as children. At the same time, many of the authors—especially Henry Jenkins—argue that scholars of children’s cultures should ask children themselves what they think about their culture. You’re not children, but you’re closer to childhood than many cultural critics and historians. The idea behind this assignment is to create a public archive of primary sources that meant something to you in your own childhood. I’ll put these sources up on the Internet and publicize the site in a number of ways (through Twitter, through the AMS departmental website, and through my own blog).[1]

In this assignment, you’ll introduce the primary source you’ve picked, situate it historically, and perform at least one analytical move (more on that below).

Timeline for the assignment:

  1. Come up with a subject for your entry that’s related to the theme we’ve discussed in the most recent unit.  We’ve been talking about environments for the past few weeks, and discussing the way that childhoods are shaped by the spaces—real or imaginary—in which they take place. You could pick a topic for this assignment in a number of ways:
    1. Pick a place that was important to you as a child. This place could be “natural,” or it could be constructed by humans; it could also be virtual or imaginary. I’m thinking about the tree you climbed to read books, the woods you frequented, the mall where you met your friends, the arcade where your parents dropped you off on Saturdays, the insides of the video game that you liked the best, or the landscape of the novels that occupied your imagination (for me, that would be the frontier of Little House on the Prairie).
    2. Pick a technology that shaped your relationship to place. This could be the gates that surrounded your gated community, or the cell phone that your parents used to find out where you were, or the bike that carried you to your friends’ houses.
  2. Do some preliminary research. Your goal in this first step is to find out whether there’s enough material available to allow you to carry out the a), b), and c) of the assignment’s content that I outline below.
  3. If it seems like your source won’t allow you to carry out the assignment, pick a new source.
  4. If you can’t figure out how to find a source that will let you fulfill the requirements, or if you’re confused about the assignment, come visit me at office hours (Caffe Medici, MW 3:15-4:45) and we’ll discuss.
  5. If it seems like you’re good to go, read through the research you’ve done and begin writing.
  6. Bring a first draft of the assignment to class on Monday, November 21, for peer review.
  7. Email me your final draft of the assignment as a Microsoft Word (or equivalent) document, by 5 pm on Monday, November 28.

Content of the assignment:

Harking back to kindergarten, I want you to think of this assignment as an exercise in Showing and Telling.

a)    Show us, in words, exactly what your primary source is. This is the who-what-when-where of this exercise. Who made this? What is it? When was it produced? Where? (If it’s a place, talk about its history; if it’s an imaginary or virtual landscape, talk about who invented or wrote it; if it’s a technology, talk about its inventors and its dissemination.)

b)   Tell us a bit about your own experience with the primary source. You can mix this part in with a), if you’d like.

c)    Tell us a bit more about what this source can say about American children’s culture. You can carry out c) by performing any of the analytical moves I outline on the handout “Some Ways of Looking at a Primary Source.” For this version of the assignment, I want you to do #2, #4, or #5, because, as I said in class, I think it’ll help you figure out something less general to say. Email me and let me know if you’re having trouble finding scholarly sources.

Note: This assignment doesn’t need to conform to a typical “essay” format such as you might have learned to execute in high school (intro-thesis-argument paragraphs-conclusion). I will give you some examples of structures you might pursue, but in the three website entries, it’s far more important to me that you fit a, b, and c into your 750 words, than to see you conform to a particular structure. We’ll leave that for your final essay, in which you’ll need to pursue and develop an argument.

Nuts and bolts:

  • Use Zotero to create Chicago Manual of Style-formatted citations in your document. Choose “Full Note” when you’re prompted to choose a style the first time you input a note. For this second assignment, you’re responsible for double-checking your citations and making sure they conform to Chicago Style. I was lenient about this last time, but this time I’ll take note. Zotero’s great, but using it doesn’t eliminate the need for a certain degree of vigilance. You can still have messed-up metadata that generates messy citations, or you can choose the wrong citation style and end up with incomplete citations. Familiarize yourself with Chicago Style and learn to see when your citations are inadequate.
  • No Wikipedia citations! Find out where the Wikipedia author found his/her information, and trace it to the source; cite the source, not the Wikipedia article.
  • Make sure to attribute well: avoid overly long block quotes, integrate quotations into your sentences, and make sure to introduce the authors you cite (more on this in class).
  • Don’t forget to tell me at the top of the document which level of privacy you prefer (see my footnote on page 1 of this assignment).
  • The document should be at least 750 words.
  • If you come across an image that would work with your entry, feel free to include it in your submission, along with the URL where you found it. Copyright law may not permit me to use the image; I’ll handle that side of things.
  • Submit the assignment to me, via email, as a Word document (.doc)  or equivalent, by 5 pm on the due date.  Please name your file using your last name (if I were submitting, I’d use “onionassignment1.doc”), so that I don’t end up with a desktop full of “website.doc”s.

[1] A note on privacy. You’ll have a number of different options when it comes to your visibility with this project. Please let me know at the top of each entry which option you wish to exercise. 1) Full visibility: Use your full name to sign your entry. This means that people (including future employers) might find this site when they Google your name. This might be to your advantage, especially if you envision pursuing a career that requires skills in creative written communication, or it might not. 2) Pseudonymity: Pick a pseudonym, and I’ll attach it to your entry. This protects you from having this work associated with your name on Google. 3) Complete anonymity: Just let me know, and I’ll keep your work off the site altogether. I’ll grade it the same, whichever way you chose to go.

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